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Fraser Simons @frasersimons
, 24 tweets, 7 min read Read on Twitter
Let's talk about the #PbtA games. In particular: mechanical design that leans prescriptive or suggestive. Neither term is probably as precise as it should be but are useful for discussing the trends in this design space.
All of the games have mechanics and have moves that reflect both of these trends. Prescriptive moves are usually extremely precise and specific. Therefore, they are also less open to interpretation from the player.
Suggestive moves are more nebulous; often more flavorful, too. These moves are similar to Defy Danger and Act Under Fire, in that they are less precise and are used to cover a wider range of possible variables and goal post where the fiction should be headed.
In PbtA, an unwritten sort of Golden Rule (at least from my POV when I run) when there's a question about the mechanics or rules open to interpterion, is this: you do whatever makes sense for your fiction. That's it. So if you think you're hitting a suggestive move, you are.
Prescriptive move design is excellent when you want precision but it also leaves less interpretation, which means that if a situation occurs where it isn't EXACTLY the trigger of the move, people don't know what to do. What we are doing doesn't really apply to anything; oh no!
Conversely, if most of the moves are suggestive, it's harder to goal post what this fiction and your interpretation of the genre should look like because everything is nebulous. That's why most basic moves have a mix of both. At least initially.
With further "waves" of design coming to fruition, there is a general intelligence around powered by the apocalypse games where a lot of people assume they have system mastery. But newer games experiment with moves often, altering frameworks.
Suggestive designs and prescriptive ones also have a trend where they manage cognitive loads differently. Fundamentally, precise designs place most of the load on the MC (or GM, DM, etc) and suggestive ones put a lot more of it onto the players.
Players describe what they do and try to trigger moves but when one is more nebulous they have the ability to interpret and hit the move in varying ways that I like. But it also shifts the responsibility onto the players if these moves are on the playbooks.
Generally an MC who likes precise wording in triggers does not like this shift of narrative authority to the player, which must be given unless the MC is aware of every move every player has and their basic moves. It's possible. But it's hard since it's mostly player facing.
Precise games usually have a more formal MC-player relationship then, because the players more often look to the MC to say they triggered something vs the player saying, "I'm trying to hit X move on my playbook". If you've read The Veil, you know which design I prefer already.
But what has happened in this design space is people with system mastery, usually based on what games they've played the most, conflate one design as being better and the other bad. When really it's just a preference.
Precise fans hate moves that aren't precise enough; suggestive ones think the design is too restrictive. These are the indicators I've noticed the most. And because every design features both, they actively dislike or like only parts of the games' design work.
The Veil is heavy on cognitive load because a lot of moves are suggestive and the game puts a LOT of emphasis on the players defining and contributing to the fiction; more so than any other design I can think of, in fact. Partly, it has to do this because it also has to...
… accommodate other designs, as The Veil is meant to be three books; always was. It's a toolkit too. It's a precise MC's fuckin' worst nightmare and that's fair. It's very much a reflection of just how I like to play.
But I like and play many other designs and appreciate the benefits of more precise designs. I don't always have players that want the kind of cognitive load The Veil brings. When I play Dungeon World I feel restricted by my playbook because they are so, well, precise!
That doesn't mean it's a bad design because it's not my personal preference. And without design frameworks that explore both ways, which would not be having any innovation in that space right now. I know some people think there isn't. And they're completely wrong about that.
@edige23 's game, Hearts of Wulin, combines the two very well. There is almost a clear line of precise and suggestive moves and, like The Veil, the players choose what stat they roll with while moving to trigger them. The fun thing is that in that game the outcomes are suggestive
@edige23 In @GauntletRPG 's The Between, cognitive load is fucking masterfully juggled as the players and MC transition from Night to Day, coupled with meta mechanics to manage the PCs backstory. It's a cinematic approach to PbtA games.
@edige23 @GauntletRPG There is so many cool designs still being developed in the space and that's because within the framework there is a lot of space to allow for people to play and design the games they want without complying to a particular preference.
@edige23 @GauntletRPG Just like video games did not have a framework for critique that was valuable and useful, tabletop gaming has even less. All you can really do is express what you like, what you don't, and why. Stop telling people what is good and what is not based on your preferences.
@edige23 @GauntletRPG All design helps make the space richer. All of it. I don't even think we have the proper language to talk about what an informed, useful, critique of a design is. And if there are people doing this, it's not most of the people expressing their opinions in this manner right now.
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